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How Do I Avoid the Health Hazards of Grilling?

How Do I Avoid the Health Hazards of Grilling?

Reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals by using these grilling techniques.

When Bear Grylls is taping his TV show Running Wild, he and his celebrity co-adventurers have to prepare a cook-what-you-can-find meal under the most rugged circumstances. You can bet they hope they won’t have to grill up and devour a hairy spider, like Bear does on a YouTube video, shot in 2010. (He’s terrorized Julia Roberts, Roger Federer, Zac Efron—even President Obama went along, and that episode’s been viewed over 1 billion times!)

But for you backyard chefs, the scariest thing about your bare grills isn’t what you’re cooking but your cooking technique! Grilling meat at high temperatures can produce cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and dripping fat and juices that cause smoky flare-ups deposit toxic polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on the food.

Luckily, to avoid these health hazards, you don’t have to replicate Roger Federer’s Running Wild dinner of a half-gnawed, frozen fish carcass retrieved from an icy pond. To reduce grilling risks:

  1. Trim the fat and remove poultry skin to reduce smoky fires; don’t char meat.
  2. Use a gas grill for temperature control, keeping temps below 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. To further reduce HCAs and PAHs:
  • Good—If you’re rushed, marinating meats for 15 minutes in olive oil and vinegar will do the trick.
  • Better—Marinate meats for at least 60 minutes in an acidic mixture of wine or beer, vinegar and/or orange or pineapple juice. One study found a six-hour soak in red wine slashed production of two carcinogenic chemicals by 40 and 80 percent.
  • Best—Grill marinated salmon.

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

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